People urged to reduce social contacts in lead up to Christmas as Omicron cases grow

People have been urged to not socialise unnecessarily in the lead up to Christmas, as concerns grow about the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, called on people to “decrease our social contacts a little bit” as 14 cases of the new strain have now been identified across the country.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme this morning, she pushed the importance of getting a booster jab, but said that even if our “vaccines appear to be effective, but we find that the variant is more highly transmissible, having lowish grade infection, but in very large numbers of the population, (it) could still be a significant impact on our hospitals.

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“And, of course, our behaviours in winter and particularly around Christmas, we tend to socialise more, so I think all of those will need to be taken into account.”

Commuters wear face coverings as mask wearing on public transport becomes mandatory to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. (PA)

Dr Harries, the head of NHS Test and Trace, added: "We’ve seen that not everybody has gone back to work and I’d like to think of it more in a general way, which is if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.

“I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jabs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a three-month interval from their primary course.”

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New measures to combat the new Omicron variant came into force this morning, with face coverings again compulsory in England in shops and settings such as banks, post offices, hairdressers, and public transport.

All travellers returning to the UK must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

On Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a Downing Street press conference to urge people to have their booster jabs when called forward by the NHS.

Dr Harries said the Sage advice was to bring in working from home if there was a surge in cases but she stressed there were still only a low number of confirmed cases of Omicron.

“So it’s a very early stage for this, I think, but certainly, if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do,” she added.

Ministers have been keen to stress that there is currently no threat to Christmas plans despite these newly identified cases,

Health Minister, Gillian Keegan, told Sky News the Government is “very much hoping that we can keep Christmas on track”.

She told Sky News the position this year was much different due to the vaccine rollout.

“Of course, Christmas is on track, and actually what everybody wants for Christmas is if you haven’t had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven’t had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven’t had your booster, come and get it when you’re asked,” she said.